Every great journey begins with one small step.
(Berklee College of Music)
I don’t know how long it took man to invent the wheel, but I do know that it took a helluva lot longer for Saudi men to decide that women are perfectly capable of driving.
Every year of the seven that I lived in Riyadh the rumour went around that the ban would be lifted, even though Bedouin women were frequently spotted cruising around the desert in the family flatbed. Although not for leisure purposes but as a necessity.
What feels like a lifetime after my final exit visa was processed, women have finally been given the right to chauffeur themselves around.
To someonone who has never ventured to the Kingdom, the news item might not have aroused much interest. After all, in our society driving is so mundane. But for Saudi women – and men – this is a momentous step.
The notion that it is illustrative of the desire for gender equality is probably a little naieve, although for sure it is a step in that direction.
The Kingdom has glided through the last six decades on a slick of vast wealth derived from oil reserves. But while Saudi’s fortune has always waxed and waned according to oil prices, since its financial zenith in the early eighties the population has grown sigificantly, while at the same time the national income has reduced substantially.
This has brought the legacy of extravagant spending and a heavy dependence by individuals upon the state into sharp focus.
The development, then, is more likely to be a result of Saudis feeling the pinch and unable to retain drivers for female family members. Likewise, there is an increasing need for women to be more productive players in the economy, for which they require greater independence.
Whatever the reason it’s a welcome move, although I admit that during my time in the country the idea of going head – to – head with cars the size of tanks hurtling down the freeway, with scant regard to an already lax highway code, stretched even my taste for adventure.
Nonetheless, having the choice and choosing not to is of course entirely differerent to not having the choice at all.
So, I wish my Saudi sisters all the very best in their new found freedom, but with a hint of irony.
Because just as they are now heading to the showrooms to buy thier own wheels, I’m studying the current train timetable and accepting the unpalatable truth that I will have to drive myself into Manchester tomorrow, if I have the slightest chance of making my appointment before bedtime.
It’s true isn’t it? We can never have it all!